The Chinese government has defended the existence of the camps, previously calling them vocational training centers. After the New York Times in November published leaked Chinese government files ordering the mass detention of Muslims in Xinjiang, China said that detentions were efforts to curb terrorism in the region.
The bill, S.178, directs the President to submit a list of senior Chinese officials responsible for human rights abuses in Xinjiang, and subject them to sanctions. It also calls on the President to condemn the abuses in Xinjiang and call for the camps to be closed; the Secretary of State should also consider sanctions under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, the bill says.
It would direct various U.S. government entities to report to Congress on the Uighurs, on matters such as the scope of detention, forced labor, and government surveillance in the Xinjiang province of China, the eligibility of certain Chinese individuals for human rights sanctions, and the forcible return of Uighur refugees and asylum-seekers by foreign countries to China.
"We will not be silent. Justice is coming. We will demand accountability-not only because it is the right thing to do, but because U.S. interests are threatened by China's high-tech authoritarianism," Smith said.
Rep. Massie, who voted against the legislation, also opposed a bill to sanction human rights abusers in Hong Kong and express solidarity with pro-democracy protesters.
He explained his "No" vote on the bill on Twitter on Tuesday, saying that "When our government meddles in the internal affairs of foreign countries, it invites those governments to meddle in our affairs."
"Before expressing righteous indignation re: my vote against these sanctions, please consider whether you committed enough to the issue that you would personally go a week without buying something made in China," he stated.
On Nov. 27, President Trump signed the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, sponsored by Rubio, which provided for sanctions of human rights abusers in the region.
Smith, who first introduced a version of the legislation in 2014, said that "Xi Jinping should understand that the US is not kidding about human rights. Beating, torturing and jailing of democracy activists is wrong and this historic legislation lets China know that respecting fundamental human rights is paramount."